What is Jazz Fusion?

Jazz fusion is a popular subgenre formed by contemporary jazz improvisation on dance rhythms. It has a heavy emphasis on rock-style electronic instruments to create a fusion of jazz, rock, Latin, and funk, fueled by simple vamp chords and straight rhythms.

Jazz’s lasting heritage gained a new chapter thanks to the emergence of fusion’s newest generation of artists. Technological breakthroughs in music inspired the fusion’s inception as a response to the changing Jazz music scene in the late ‘60s.

During the ’70s, a jazz subgenre known as jazz fusion began to gain popularity. In this subgenre, jazz is blended with Latin, funk, rock, and many other styles to create a larger jazz framework.

history of jazz Fusion

Various fusions of jazz and popular music have existed since the recordings of 1920s bands, most notably those of Paul Whiteman. Characterized by the swinging features of jazz in contrast to the melodic characteristics of popular music.

The harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic patterns were remarkably complicated at first. Called post-bop, it employed non-functional chord progressions. Jazz fusion grew out of the post-bop era over several decades.

Miles Davis, one of music’s most iconic figures, is credited with founding fusion. However, as you see, it wasn’t only a matter of time before it became a reality.

The late 1960s brought Miles a craving for simplicity as he became tired of post-bop. It was when rock music was taking over the 1960s that several jazz pieces began to include rock beats.

Miles Davis

While Davis was a master of the jazz genre, it was his ongoing innovation and exploration that set him apart.

By the end of the 1960s, Davis’s ambition to innovate had progressed to a new level. As the 1968 album “Miles in the Sky” shows, jazz arrangements were replaced by more groove-oriented compositions. This was a big change in Davis’s music style.

Davis’s record was also marked as the first time he used an electric keyboard with Chick Korea, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, and Larry Young. Thus kicking off the era he refers to as his electric period. Together, these factors influenced Davis’s approach to music.

Miles Davis also collaborated with guitarist John McLaughlin, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and drummer Tony Williams in the same year.

Despite the excitement over Davis’s new style of jazz, he had not yet reached his full potential in this area. After the albums “Filles de Kilimanjaro” and “In a Silent Way” came Miles Davis’ fourth album, “Bitches Brew”. Released three years later, his jazz explorations reached a pinnacle.

Being a jazz composer and an arranger, Miles Davis re-examined the principles of arranging and writing jazz. He added new instruments to his group, using effects and pedals to treat his trumpet, and adopting novel editing techniques to elevate music production to new levels.

Davis was also interested in learning about what music was selling, what was popular at the time, and how he might incorporate that information into his music in a subtle manner. “Bitches Brew” was designed to be a genre-defying record from the beginning. That this new style of jazz had a market and followers was evident. It was positively received.

In the following years, several of the promising young players went on to establish what is now widely regarded as the leading, notable, and successful jazz fusion bands of all time.

Fusion Bands and Orchestras

Jazz and rock elements showed up in various ways with fusions of different styles in the early 1970s. Most notably, in bands like Davis’s groups, Zawinul’s and Shorter’s Weather Report, McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra, Corea’s Return to Forever, and Hancock’s Headhunters.

Jazz fusion carried on with these musicians, who each developed their distinct style, based on Davis’s work. One thing that these musicians had in common was their traditional jazz beginnings.

This meant that they could break with conventions and structures to come up with new ideas. This was made possible by all the new technology in music. They could completely change the sound of jazz.

First, Weather Report came out with an album called “Weather Report.” This album came out in 1971. When the group was formed, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul were the two people who led the way. The group went on to release fourteen records over fifteen years.

The Mahavishnu Orchestra was founded by John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham in the middle of 1971. Their debut album was released the same year. The band’s eight albums span twenty-eight years and include a more rock-influenced jazz fusion. “The Inner Mounting Flame” album captures the essence of Jimi Hendrix while also including jazz harmonies.

Return to Forever, the band formed by Chick Corea and Airto Moreira, released their debut album, Return to Forever, in 1972. The group’s sound changed over five years and six albums and became more rock-based. Their first releases were Latin-infused fusion.

The Headhunters was Herbie Hancock’s final band before he disbanded them. In 1973, they had a huge success with their debut album. Even though they were already a well-known band, Hancock published their first two albums under his name.

Hancock, however, didn’t appear on the official release of “Bitches Brew.” But, he was included in the whole “Bitches Brew Sessions” and was a longstanding collaborator of Davis’s.

The groups mentioned above weren’t the only ones using fusion. During the ’70s, there were a lot of bands and people who were part of the developments. You can find examples of how their music sounds and how it is different compared to traditional jazz here.

Characteristics of Jazz Fusion

The groove, which is the band’s repeated rhythmic pattern, is critical to Funk and, by extension, jazz fusion. Harmony and melody are not as crucial in the fusion as rhythm is.

In jazz fusion, the rhythmic pattern gives the song its structure and serves as a sort of foundation. It allows for the exploration of more unusual harmonies and melodies that follow.

It was Miles Davis who made the rhythm section equal to the soloist in his music. He also used a lot of rhythm instruments to make his songs rich, yet light at the same time. If there is a solid rhythmic groove, the melody and harmony can be more flexible.

To do this, each instrument must play the same basic beat repeatedly throughout the song. The goal is to keep your beat constant. This is why the bass is playing an ostinato rhythm.

Atonal harmony and chromatic melody can be explored while maintaining a constant rhythm or groove. Additionally, the piano and guitar perform vamps and riffs in unison.

The point is that everyone has to do the same thing over and over again to get into a rhythm. Each move is connected to the rhythm of fusion music.


Jazz fusion is a subgenre that combines jazz, funk, rock, Latin, and sometimes even more. Even though some similar experimentations existed since the ‘20s, Miles Davis made the steps to create jazz fusion. He wanted more simplicity in his music and tried various strategies to find a place for jazz fusion in the market.

Many bands followed this new musical movement. It was the rhythm, not the solos, crucial in jazz fusion. The groove took precedence over melody and harmony.

Arda Tuncer

Arda Tuncer

Arda Tuncer is a music producer, composer, songwriter, arranger, and performer. She releases music as part of the music duo, Kronik Leila. She has worked and collaborated with some prestigious orchestras around Europe, while also holding University positions as music theory professor and music research assistant. Arda studied music theory and clarinet at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris and completed her degree at the Conservatory of Strasbourg in France.

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